There is light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. But as we emerge, blinking, into the clean, fresh air, we should look back at our experience over the last few months. There is plenty to learn and take forward. One of the positive things about lockdown is that there has been more time to spend on research, so here are five thought-provoking findings my colleagues and I have discovered over the last few months about eLearning.
1. A recent report by McKinsey & Company revealed that students’ successful outcomes in maths, science, and reading were dependent on whether the technology used was in the hands of the students or teachers. They found that teacher-directed and collaborative (between student and teacher) technology use resulted in improved outcomes for the students. However, when the technology used was exclusively in the hands of the students, the outcomes were significantly lower across all measures.
2. Why is this? One area identified in another report is technical difficulties. Whether it is a 404 error page, difficulty loading a website, or just the classic computer freeze at the wrong moment, these problems apply to both students and teachers alike. A study conducted by Maymon, Hall, and Goetz (2018) suggested that computing difficulties can affect student achievement through emotional distress. They found that students’ motivation to fix their computer issues impacts their learning. Students who performed poorly due to computer difficulties often attributed their poor performance to their own ability, when this was not always the case. One solution for this is training. Teachers must be allowed time to fully understand how to relay course content, and also how to use their programs to best support their students’ and their own needs.
3. Research on the ‘homework gap’ revealed that 17% of teenagers in the US were unable to do their homework because they did not have access to home broadband or a home computer. In April 2020, UNESCO published findings on the worldwide digital divide, made worse by the pandemic. The results showed that 50% of learners, 826 million students, were unable to participate in classroom activity because they did not have access to a household computer, and 43% of learners did not have access to the internet at home.
4. But it’s not all bad news. There is a growing trend towards mobile learning. The Pew Research Center found that smartphone use was one approach to bridging the digital divide between disadvantaged and advantaged students in the US. Almost all students have a smartphone, some even have two! Although currently an ‘alternative’ approach, mobile learning may be adopted by more and more teachers in the future. You might be interested in a short talk given by Clarity’s Technical Director, Dr Adrian Raper, on shifting to mobile delivery.
5. A lot of institutions have got very worked up about online tests and security. A year ago, you had probably never heard the term ‘online proctoring’; now it’s everywhere. Methods include invigilators watching computer screens in real time, measuring student ‘looking times’ (looking off screen for more than four seconds is considered ‘suspicious behaviour’), and even identifying students with biometric data (fingerprints, facial recognition or retina scanning). Needless to say, this results in increased anxiety and fear among students.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Many teachers are now switching to programs or apps that allow in-class quizzes. This encourages a ‘deeper level-of-processing’ for the students when they learn the information, and also allows teachers to continually assess students’ abilities in the context of their class, rather than depending only on the end-of-year exam.
There is every reason to suppose that the teaching and learning environment has changed forever. The research shows this. There is so much that is potentially positive that has come out of this lockdown — if only we can learn the lessons.